Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't Panic

With another ugly loss to the Royals last night, the Twins have now dropped five in a row since the minor-league squad finished off the sweep of the Indians a week ago. The offense has been sputtering, the pitching has been fairly putrid, and it's hard to shake the feeling that we'd much rather see the Twins charge instead of limp into the playoffs. As is often the case, a stretch like this can draw the Chicken Littles out of the woodwork (I include myself in this category at times) and leave us with the sense of impending doom of another playoff implosion lurking just around the corner. I feel like this needs to be said though - stop panicking, and here are a few reasons why:

Reason #1: The concept of "momentum" heading into the playoffs is not a strong predictor of results.

Gleeman and others have pointed out that, at least in a limited recent sample size, the number of games won or lost heading into the playoffs hasn't necessarily translated into success or failure. Again, this isn't based on wide-ranging statistical analysis - it just goes to show that even the hottest team heading into the playoffs can lay an egg, and a team that closed out the regular season on a losing streak can be just fine. We've had these moments plenty of times during this season where nothing seems to be clicking, and the Twins have shown an ability to right the ship. In the playoffs, the window of opportunity to turn things around is obviously smaller (and I think the idea of "getting the losses out of the way now" is pretty meaningless) but hopefully the lineup that takes the field for the ALDS will look substantially different than the one we've been watching the past week. Which brings me to...

Reason #2: The Twins have been without a key third of the lineup.

Since the priority (as it should be) has been on getting the team healthy rather than going all-out for the best record in the AL, we haven't seen Mauer, Hardy or Thome lately. This obviously creates significant holes in the lineup both offensively and defensively, and the hope is that all three of these guys will be ready to go come October 6th, if not earlier. Although the latest report sounds encouraging, there's no guarantee that some of the injured crew won't have setbacks, meaning that whoever is in the lineup for Game 1 will have to step up, but the hope is that we'll see a healthy Mauer, Thome and Hardy all back at 100%.

Reason #3: The offensive "regulars" who have been playing haven't been the problem.

Again, small sample size, but in the last five losses the lines for the uninjured members of what we hope will be the starting lineup are as follows:

Denard Span: .412, 4 R, 3 BB
Delmon Young: .304, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Michael Cuddyer: .238, 3 RBI
Jason Kubel: 2 HR, 7 RBI
Danny Valencia: 2 HR, 5 RBI
Orlando Hudson (ok, so he's been struggling): .111, 2 R, 4 BB

Denard and Delmon seem to be seeing the ball fairly well as of late, and Kubel and Valencia have been providing some pop. Hudson and Cuddyer are in a bit of a funk, but they've been much better hitters at Target Field this year. A five-game sample obviously isn't predictive, but there are enough signs of life here that I wouldn't worry too much about an offense that has been missing two of its best hitters.

Reason #4: Part of the ugly run totals allowed have been due to bullpen guys who aren't getting used in the playoffs.

After Liriano's early exit due to illness on Sept 24, Manship and Burnett combined to cough up eight runs against the Tigers. In the first game of the Royals series, Manship gave up three more after Slowey left the game. Glen Perkins has allowed 4 ER in 3.1 IP. Randy Flores served up a game-tying home run to the Royals in a situation he's not going to be put in in the playoffs.

In terms of the guys who will actually see action, Crain has been slightly more hittable in September but is still pitching well, Capps struck out the side last night in his only recent appearance, Guerrier hasn't allowed a run since Sept 15th and fanned two in his inning Monday night, Mijares hasn't given up a hit or walk in his last three appearances, and since an ugly outing versus Texas on Sept 5th, Rauch has posted a 4:1 K/BB rate in 6 IP with no runs allowed.

Reason #5: The starting pitching....

Gulp. If there is one area that is the biggest cause for concern right now, this is it. I don't have the time to do any detailed pitchFX analysis or anything, but the results have not been good. To be fair, Liriano's last outing was shortened due to a stomach problem, and he actually looked pretty good before giving up the home run, with four strikeouts and one walk in three innings. Pavano has struggled (to say the least) in his last few outings, giving up twelve earned runs in only nine innings, including eleven hits and seven earned against the Tigers on Saturday. If there's a bright spot to be found, he's still getting more groundball outs than flyouts, and he struck out two in four innings while not walking anyone. In addition, if he's had a pattern this year, his clunkers have generally been followed up by much stronger outings. The red flag for Duensing lately would be his control, having walked four in each of his last two starts. He's still killing worms at a good clip (15 GB vs 8 FB in his last appearance). He has the ability to be effective if he makes good use of his excellent slider, but needs to cut down on the free passes.

The projected fourth starter, Nick Blackburn, did not have a very good night last night either, getting shelled for seven earned in 4.1 innings and allowing two home runs. In his recent run of success, the key factor for Blackburn (like Duensing) has been keeping the ball on the ground:

5-Sep TEX 1 0 7 6 0 2 2 4 3 5 12
11-Sep @CLE 0 0 8 5 0 0 0 3 2 6 16
17-Sep OAK 0 1 7 8 1 3 3 1 1 5 18
22-Sep CLE 1 0 7 5 0 1 1 2 2 6 12
28-Sep @KCR 0 1 4.1 8 2 8 8 4 2 8 6

One of these things is not like the other. If Blackburn does indeed get a start in Game 4 (which would be a road start) keeping the ball down will be absolutely essential. He's shown that he can step up and pitch well in big games before (see: Game 163, 2008 or Game 2, 2009 ALDS at Yankee Stadium), but can't afford to leave pitches up as a pitch-to-contact guy.

If Scott Baker has a dominant outing tonight, you'd have to figure he may be in the discussion for Game 4, but his elbow has been iffy and I'm not sure how much the Twins (or I) trust him at this point. Regardless of who that pitcher may be, the staff as a whole needs to snap out of their mini-funk and get back their edge before the games matter again. I'm confident they can - if Liriano can set the tone in Game 1, maybe that will give the others something to build on. I don't know if either bad or good pitching are "contagious" per se, but a strong start in front of the home crowd would certainly be a confidence boost. For Twins fans, the sky is certainly not falling, but there are some holes to patch up in the next week. This team has the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, and here's to hoping for some October magic.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Re-Post: "Delicious" by John Bonnes

John Bonnes (Twins Geek) posted this too, but it's too good not to link here. I mean talk about a bitter, vitriolic rant from a dirty White Sox doesn't get better than that. Oh, and not only that, he's taken the time to respond to EVERY single comment. I mean, hats off to him for driving some traffic to his site, but the argument he makes doesn't hold an ounce of water. I'll file this under the same category as I filed my post earlier this year when the Sox were 9 games out... See you next year..."Boys."

P.S. Back 'atcha baseballjones...enjoy watching Twins POST-SEASON baseball.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

AL Central Champs!

I'll just leave this here. As Twins fans, we've gotten somewhat used to winning the Central division; they've captured the crown in 2002-2004, 2006 and 2009. What we're not exactly used to having it wrapped up this early. The last few times the Twins have won the division, they've needed a furious late-season charge or even extra games to decide the outcome. It feels good to have the luxury of resting up for the playoffs, especially for Joe Mauer and his achy knee. This team has been a blast to watch the second half of the season, and I'm looking forward to more October baseball.

And thank God that October baseball will not include another Game 163.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Twins Regular Season Awards

I'll be honest, I've taken a few days off from religiously following the Twins. I've still been checking in on a daily basis, but after the series with the White Sox I felt the pressure was really off and decided to take a break before the last couple weeks of the season and the start of the playoffs. In the meantime, the White Sox have done nothing but help the Twins by continuing to lose and as of last night, the Twins find themselves with a magic number of 2 and the possibility of clinching their 2nd straight AL Central title TONIGHT. With 12 games left, they will have plenty of time to rest their key players, make adjustments to their rotation and prepare for a home series against either the Rays or Yankees. Not only that, the Twins will likely be the 1st team in Major League Baseball to clinch a playoff spot, capping off an extremely impressive regular season that will conclude with them fighting for the best record in baseball.

"The Twins window for a championship is now. They lack a dominant ace pitcher (could Liriano be that guy?), but this team has enough talent all the way through to make a run. Starters 1 through 3 are consistent, the bullpen is improving, the lineup will definitely score runs and the management seems to have the latitude to shore up the holes when the time comes."

Those were my words back before the season started and, for the most part, I feel the exact same way now as I did then. Liriano has emerged to be a dominant pitcher once again and the front-office did indeed step up to patch a hole or two here and there as the season wore on. The offensive has proven stout for most of the season and since the All-Star break, the pitching staff and bullpen have been mostly excellent. I thought I would go out an provide a few ideas for in-house awards for the Twins:

(AK) Most-Improved Player Award: Delmon Young
Ok, I know, nobody wants the "most improved" award because that usually means you sucked before...but Young fits the bill perfectly. Young's best full season prior to this one was his 1st season as a Twin when he hit .290/.336/.405 with 80Rs and 69RBIs. Everyone knows how underwhelming Young's career has been so far but this year he has truly broken through and was especially valuable in the middle of the season when he was hitting the cover off the ball. His current .810 OPS is by far the best of his major career and his 102 RBIs, 18HRs and 40 doubles (and counting) are all career bests. Most encouraging has been a drop in his strikeout rate which suggests that the former #1 pick and 25-year-old may have finally turned the corner.

(DD) Comeback Player of the Year: Jesse Crain
After an absolutely atrocious start to the year, Jesse Crain has turned into arguably the best reliever on the staff, prompting apologies from a number of Twins bloggers who had written him off (among plenty of other fans, this guy included, who had given up hope for Crain at some point in the recent past, even if we didn’t write about it). One of the most satisfying moments of the entire season for me was in the first game in the last series against the White Sox - after Guerrier worked into a bases-loaded jam with only one out, Crain came in and blew away Konerko on some 97mph heat and made Manny look absolutely ridiculous on a filthy slider. He’s posted excellent numbers this year, the shiniest being a 2.39 ERA, but his FIP is also great at 3.29. xFIP doesn’t like his .259 BABIP and 5.3% HR rate, but he’s striking out more batters than he ever has and keeping the walks at least somewhat under control with a solid WHIP of 1.12. He’s always appeared to have the raw stuff to get it done at this level, but in the past has alternated between showing flashes of brilliance and being downright terrible. This season, though, he’s been extremely consistent since his rough start and now is perhaps the go-to “fireman” of the rotation, giving Gardy someone he can rely on in high-leverage situations whenever they arise. Regardless of what you think of the mental side of the closer role, I think there is something to it, and Crain has expressed not being comfortable being that guy. But if his outing against the Sox was any indication, he’s got what it takes to perform in the most pressure situations. Let’s hope that success continues.

(AK) Rookie Of The Year: Danny Valencia
I don't think there will be any argument here, Danny Valencia has been truly special this year with several clutch hits, solid fielding at 3rd (.979 fielding %) and what appears to be some staying power. What's been truly amazing about Valencia this season has been his hitting prowess at home. His home batting line this season is a staggering .436/.466/.636 in 110ABs. His BABIP is .371 this season so regression is bound to happen at some point, but he's been fun to watch so far and I couldn't be happier that he basically put Nick Punto out of a job.

(AK) Clutch Player of the Year: Delmon Young
When the Twins have needed a big hit, Young is the one you've wanted at the plate to get the big hit. Time and time again this season, Young has hit a go-ahead HR or smacked a run-scoring double in a crucial spot for the Twins. His average with RISP for the season is .361 and his OPS in the same situations is .933, a higher OPS than he has in any other hitting situation. According to FanGraphs, he has the 6th highest 'Clutch' value in all of baseball. He has fallen off the last couple months, but was a big reason that the Twins were able to retake 1st from the White Sox in July. In July alone he had 30 RBIs while hitting to the tune of .434/.455/.736. More of his hits, homeruns and RBIs have come against the White Sox than other team this season which has been especially valuable these past couple months. I'm a little nervous about his recent decline, hopefully he can pull it together for the playoffs.

(AK) Best Off-Season Pickup Award: Jim Thome
Without a shred of doubt, Bill Smith's best move last winter was signing Jim Thome. For $1.5M and some incentives, Jim has provided a .276/.408/.619 hitting line from the left side with 24HRs and 58RBIs in 268ABs. That is a frickin' STEAL, especially when you consider Thome's impact on the clubhouse, being able to mentor the likes of Danny Valencia and other Twins youngsters. Oh, and he gave us THIS, which was probably worth about $500,000 of his salary.

(DD) Most Awkward Outfield Defensive Play:
Delmon Young
Ok, so we just threw this one in there for laughs, and if you’ve watched enough games this season, you’d know that there are no shortage of nominees for this award. Span, Kubel and Cuddyer have all had their share of gaffes (although it seems that Kubes somehow turns in a highlight-reel snag once every few weeks). Perhaps the worst though is also the most improved and most clutch player on the team, and despite all the promise he’s shown this year with his bat, we can all agree that Delmon is no Gold-Glover. There were a few plays to choose from here to select Delmon’s worst, but as I mentioned in my previous article, the play against
Oakland where he awkwardly jumped over the warning track and into the wall, losing his glove in the process, has to take the cake. I don’t think I need to say anything more than that, but enjoy the highlight.

(AK) Most-Valuable Player: Francisco Liriano (3rd highest WAR among MLB starters)
This one is certainly up for debate, in fact, I've started a poll on the side bar for you to cast your vote, but I'm going to elect Francisco Liriano as the Twins most-valuable player this season. Coming into the season there had been reports that Liriano was "back" or at least resembled his former greatness and then in Spring Training we all got to see it for ourselves. All that being said, he was still the #5 guy coming out of Spring Training. He pretty quickly reasserted himself as the Ace highlighted by 4 April starts in which he gave up only 3 runs in 29 innings, striking out 27. Liriano's true value has been in the 2nd half where he held hitters to a .235 average with 8 wins, 1 loss, a 2.84 ERA, and 74Ks in 76 innings. Liriano ranks 2nd in the Majors in both FIP and xFIP and yes, he's had his clunkers, but more often than not, having Liriano on the mound has given the Twins a good shot at winning. I think most Twins fan expect to see him on the mound for Game 1 of the ALDS.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Next Step

I don't know if was the bottom of the 6th or bottom of the 7th inning last, but the Twins were already up 6+ runs and the Sox put together mini-rallies in both innings and at one point Hawk halfheartedly uttered his catch phrase of the season, "Don't stop now, boys!" Normally I roll my eyes when I hear things like this ("Mercy!" and "Dad-Gumit" bring similar reactions) but last night a smile crept across my face because at the time, you could sense the desperation in Hawk's voice and to me, it was the sound of sweet, sweet victory.

So what do the Twins do next?

Next the Twins a) get players as healthy as they can and b) they get their rotation set up. There must be some debate because earlier today TwinsGeek tweeted "Getting players rest and setting the rotation should be the priority over ALCS home field advantage. I can't believe it's a debate." I'm not privy to this debate, but I agree with John, getting rested for the playoffs and getting the rotation set up are the two most important things the Twins can do to prepare for a playoff scenario in which they will have home-field advantage. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mauer (and other regulars) get a extra day or two off, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Twins gave Liriano, Pavano, etc an extra day's rest in between starts.

What will the Twins Playoff Rotation likely look like?

In the division series, they will need 3 starters and I think Liriano is a clear favorite to pitch Game 1 for the Twins. He's been the one of the best starters in the American League all season, he has a 2.51 home ERA this year and, well, he deserves the honor. Here's how Liriano looks against either New York or Tampa.

Against NY (this season):
3.46ERA (13IP)
.309 BAA

Against Tampa (this season):
1.29ERA (7.0IP)
.167 BAA

There is certainly room for debate here, but I think you go with Carl Pavano in Game 2. Pavano had a rough August but has settled back down in September and has pitched well allowing 5 runs over his last 16 innings. Pavano didn't pitch against New York this year, here's how he favored against Tampa:

Against Tampa (this season):
4.38ERA (12.1IP)
.327 BAA

After Pavano I'm going to make a case for Scott Baker if he's healthy and we face the Rays. Here's why:

Against Tampa (this season):
0.60ERA (15IP)
.167 BAA
15 Ks
1 BB

Rays hitters have a .210/.252/.615 triple-slash against Baker and he's dominated them this year, both at home and on the road. I know there's still a question about his health and I would say that if he doesn't have a chance to make another start this year it would be awfully risky to send him out there for a playoff start. Should the Twins play the Yankees in Round 1, who should start Game 3 becomes a murkier proposition. Duensing has the best numbers against the individual Yankee players, but the sample size is quite small and even in that small sample size, the number are underwhelming (.800+ OPS). I would think that given Duensing's recent success the Twins would give him the nod to start a playoff game, but with a couple more starts to go, things could change, especially if Baker comes back and pitches well.

At this point I'm really excited at how this team has been performing and I cannot remember seeing a Twins team that was this good. Some of the early-2000s Twins teams were good (2002 and 2006 come to mind) but neither of those teams could touch this current group's depth or their powerhouse lineup. With this team, I know they can compete in the playoffs. They have some solid starting pitching, the ability to put pressure on other team's pitchers and decent enough defense (OF could be better). The Rangers will probably be the 1st team to clinch in the American League, but the Twins could very well be a week or so away from clinching the division and when they do it will be a great day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ichiro: Among the Greats

Ichiro doesn't get a great deal of attention (from the U.S. media anyway) up there in Seattle but for the last 10 years in a row, he has quietly put together one of the greatest 10-year periods that a batter has ever had in Major League Baseball history. Barring an injury, this will be his 10th consecutive season of 200+ hits, a mark that will tie him with Pete Rose as the only other player in MLB history with 10 such seasons. Pete Rose had 24 seasons to collect ten 200+ hit seasons, Ichiro has had 10.

When I got to looking at Ichiro's numbers, my 1st stop was When you look at that sparkling 10 year career, the stat sheet looks like a work of art:

1.) Assuming he plays the final 19 games of the season, he will have played every game this year. At that point, for his 10 year career he will have averaged 159 games per about consistency.

2.) Through no fault of his own this will be his least productive year so far in terms of runs scored, yet he will still be averaging over 100 runs a year for his career.

3.) In 10 full Major League seasons, he has never hit less than .303. The triple-slash for his career is .331/.376/.430.

4.) This was mind-boggling to me. He was ROY in 2001. He has won a Gold Glove EVERY SEASON he has been a Major Leaguer and oh, he won the MVP award his rookie year too. Not only that (but kind of a "duh"), he has been an All-Star every season of his career. So in summary, an average season for Ichiro is .331/.376/.430, a gold glove and an All-Star appearance.

5.) He has stolen 30+ bases in nine out of 10 years. He's stolen 40+ bases twice and 50+ bases once. His career SB% is 81%.

6.) Ichiro holds the Major League record for hits in a season with 262 hits. The other names in the top 10 include George Sisler, Lefty O'Doul, Bill Terry, Al Simmons, Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Klein, and Ty Cobb. In other words, Ichiro put himself in some seriously ancient company with that 2004 season.

7.) Again, assuming Ichiro finishes the season without incident, he will lead the league for the 7th time in 10 years in # of hits.

8.) In 10 years of playing right field, he has turned almost as many double-plays (21) as he has committed errors (28). He has 3 times as many outfield assists (89) as he has errors.

9.) He's 36 this year, if he can manage 4 more seasons and keep up the hit pace he is currently on, he would eclipse the 3,000 hit mark in only 14 seasons...that is incredible.

10.) This goes along with his high career batting average and ability to beat out infield hits, but Ichiro's career BABIP is .357 which is the 16th highest of all-time (among players with at least 1500 PAs).

Regardless of what Ichiro does to end his career, it's hard to argue that he has not already produced a Hall of Fame career in only 10 seasons. According to Baseball Reference's "Hall of Fame Statistics" section he's right there especially when it comes to batting. I think you have to cut Ichiro a little slack considering he didn't start his ML career until age 27 after a 9-year Japanese league career. Had he played his entire career over here, we may very well have been talking about a challenger to Pete Rose's record. Hats off to Ichiro, here's to hoping he's got a few more seasons in him.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Breaking Backs

19 games left, 6 game lead. Doing the math, if the Twins go 9-10, the White Sox would have to go 15-4 just to tie. Things are looking good. What was once a series circled multiple times on the calendar in big red marker is now simply mentally circled, a do-or-die series for the White Sox and an opportunity to break the backs of the arch rival for the the Twins. Let's go straight to the pitching matchups, this series probably doesn't need any more fanfare.

Tuesday Night: Francisco Liriano (13-7; 2.37 FIP) v. John Danks (13-10; 3.56 FIP)
My first thought was "great, Liriano will get this series off to a good start." Then I thought to look at his starts this season in which he was the game 1 starter...the results, though limited by sample size, are mediocre. In 8 starts this season where Liriano was the game 1 starter this season, his line:

4.59 ERA
1.31 WHIP
3.125 K/BB
9.57 K/9

Obviously the peripherals are there. In fact, if you take out two rough starts against Detroit in which he gave up 13 earned runs in 7 2/3rds innings over two starts, his series opening ERA drops to 2.45. I still think it's the best possible situation to start this series because it puts extra pressure on the Sox. If the Twins win tonight, the best the Sox can do is gain one game on the Twins, which will leave them 5 out with 16 remaining, a nearly insurmountable advantage for the Twins.
Liriano's opposition will be John Danks who can be downright nasty at times. In 97 innings at home this year, Danks owns a 3.34 ERA and in September so far, he has a 2.08 ERA. He's been less stellar against the Twins this year, but I expect him to pitch well tomorrow night.

Wednesday Night: Brian Duensing (8-2; 3.49 FIP) v. Gavin Floyd (10-12; 3.42 FIP)
After an absolutely ridiculous June and July, Gavin Floyd has come back to earth a bit the last two months posting 4.50+ ERAs in both months so far. Still, Floyd's home ERA is about 1/2 a run less this season. He's been downright terrible against the Twins this year with a 7.41 ERA in 17 innings. Meanwhile, stretch-run hero Brian Duensing continues to turn in quality start after quality start. Duensing's road ERA is almost a 1.5 runs above his home ERA, but when he's on the mound, he always seems to give the Twins a chance to win and I expect he'll do the same this go-around.

Thursday Night: Carl Pavano (16-11; 3.73 FIP) v. Mark Buehrle (12-10; 4.00 FIP)
In my mind, this is the most daunting game of the three simply because if Buehrle can escape the first couple innings of the game, he usually goes on to dominate the Twins. In his last start against the Twins he went 7.0 innings giving up only 5 hits and 1 walk. If Pavano's recent back issue isn't enough to keep him from making this start I'm not entirely sure what they'll get out of him. He's been an absolute horse this season and in his last 10 starts he's given up more than 3 runs only 3 times.

The key for the Twins in this series is going to be their ability to score runs. It's no secret that this Twins team has struggled mightily at times to score on the road and there was no better evidence of that then this past weekend against Cleveland when they managed a meager 7 runs in 3 games, 6 of those runs coming yesterday. U.S. Cellular Field tends to be a launching pad at times so I expect homeruns from both sides, let's hope the Twins can take 2 of 3, and at the very least 1. Anything but a sweep by the Sox and the Twins will be in the catbird's seat.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Owning the Royals

This picture is worth 1,000 words
This recently ended home-stand for the Twins had to be one of their better ones of the last few years. They went 8-1 and that lone loss was an extra-inning debacle in a game which they had several leads. Not only that, the 8-1 home-stand coincided with a similar hot streak by the White Sox, AND the Twins managed to gain a game in the standings...amazing. But on to what I really wanted to talk about.

So far this season, the Royals and Twins have hooked up 15 times and the Twins have absolutely dominated the Royals going 12-3 and outscoring them 117-63. To put that in perspective:

*On a per game basis, that's an average score of 7.8 to 4.2

*The Twins have scored 685 runs this season, 17% of those runs have come against the Royals despite the fact that games against the Royals have only accounted for 10% of the Twins schedule.

*Dating back to 2007, the Twins are 45-24 (.652) against the Royals which is the most wins they've had against any other opponent during the stretch. In other words, if the Twins played the Royals every game of a 162-game season and won at that pace, they would win 105 games. Interestingly enough, the team that the Twins have beaten the 2nd most times since 2007 is the Chicago White Sox; the Twins own a 41-29 (.586) record over that stretch.

*Dating back to the 2000 season, the Twins are 122-73 against the Royals. Going even further back (if you're curious), since 1995, the Twins are 154-104 against the Royals.

I was trying to do some research on whether the Twins recent domination of the Royals was in any way 'historic' but I was unable to find any "streak-finders" on that tabulated such things between teams. Needless to say, the Royals have been a punching bag in the AL Central for many years and the Twins have taken advantage of that fact. The Twins have currently won 6 straight against KC and have one last 3-game set with them 9/27-9/29. Hopefully those games will be meaningless by then, but in the event they aren't, it sure is nice to have them on the schedule late in the year.

Other Random Notes:

+ Twins starters have won 5 straight games
+ Over his last 4 appearances, Matt Capps has a 6.75 ERA, 2.75 WHIP, 1K and 2BB...but he has 4 saves.
+ J.J. Hardy is 8 for his last 20 with 9RBIs, 7 runs, 1 HR and a 0/3 K/BB
+ Matt Tolbert raised his batting average by 22 point during the homestand filling in admirably for Danny Valencia
+ Brian Duensing has been excellent since rejoining the rotation and for a 2nd straight year has provided a shot-in-the-arm down the stretch for the Twins. His ERA stands at 2.02 but his FIP suggest there may be some regression in store. Jack Morris over at FanGraphs had an excellent article about his value to the Twins rotation. From ESPN Stats, opponents have a .116 average against Duensing's offspeed offerings and last night, the Royals were 0-18 on swings against his offspeed pitches.
+ Joe Mauer (9 for 22), Michael Cuddyer (10 for 31) and Jason Kubel (12 for 31) have all had a great deal of success against Friday's starter Fausto Carmona. In Carmona's last start against the Twins, he surrendered 10 hits and 5 runs in 7.1 innings.
+ The Twins have a 5.5 game lead in the AL Central which is the biggest lead they've had this season.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Target Field Redux, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Twins

The view from our seats during the Legends Game.
So I know AK has already posted his take on Target Field and this subject has been written about ad infinitum elsewhere in the blogosphere (and I realize I'm a latecomer to the party at this point), but after having the pleasure of seeing my first game there on Sunday, I wanted to weigh in as well regarding my experience at the Twins' amazing new facility.

We parked up at Washington and 2nd, so we had a bit of a walk to the stadium. I actually didn't know exactly where it was, so around every corner I was waiting for my first glimpse. Finally we turned onto 6th St and I saw the upper deck - I was actually a little surprised at how low it was to the ground, having forgotten initially that Kirby Puckett Plaza is at the top of the right field stands and the actual field is below the plaza level. The plaza itself is pretty stunning, opening onto the field with the statues of Puckett, Carew and Killebrew, the light fixtures that look like bats, and the giant hanging wall of silver chains that cover the parking garage that seem to ripple in the wind. History is everywhere; rosters from previous Twins teams are posted around the perimeter of the plaza, the gates are numbered with the jerseys of Twins greats, and, although not technically part of the stadium per se, I was lucky enough to be there for the Legends Game that featured a number of former players.

It was pretty awesome to see some familiar faces from past teams, from the Hall of Famers (Carew, Killebrew, Oliva) to other mainstays from the World Series teams (Morris, Hrbek, Gagne, Gaetti) and more recent fan favorites like Radke, Koskie and Guardado. The game itself was a riot, with a multitude of fake pulled hamstrings, Hrbek taking a massive chunk out of the turf while falling trying to catch a pop fly, Blyleven trying to plunk Ron Washington (ostensibly for being the manager of the opposing team) and Al Newman, who has packed on some serious pounds, patrolling left field. The nostalgia factor was high.

We were also fortunate to have great seats - we sat near the top of the first section almost directly behind home plate, underneath the overhang of the second tier. We had an excellent view of all the action, including the gargantuan screen in left. The thing that struck me most about the stadium was how intimate it feels, which I think is exactly what you want from a baseball stadium. The concourses are all open to the field as well, meaning you can keep your view of the field if you're walking to get food.

Speaking of food, I decided I had to do the walleye on a stick. It was definitely good, perhaps not quite worth $11, but hey, you only live once. I washed it down with a Grain Belt, which, for my money, beats the crap out of most of your standard domestics. The local flavor of the concessions was a nice touch, and I guess I'll have to leave the Murray's steak sandwich for my next visit.

I won't go too much into the game here, but it ended up being quite the wild ride, with a comfortable lead turning into a nail-biter in the ninth inning. Young being called out at third for touching the base coach (which he actually did, if only slightly) was perhaps the strangest end to a game I've seen this year. The bullpen struggles left that "hey we still won but something doesn't feel right" taste in my mouth, but Capps looked much better on Monday and at this point, we can't be nit-picking wins. There weren't any home runs either, so unfortunately I didn't get to see the Minnie-Paul sign light up, but I think Thome made up for that yesterday with a massive bomb that might still be rolling.

As AK noted in his previous post, I was left feeling sort of sick to my stomach after the marathon loss to the Tigers, with injuries and overwork prompting an influx of players from the minors, but the Twins have found a way to keep winning (which has been hugely important as the White Sox are on a seven-game winning streak, aided by some terrible bullpen performances from their opponents). Hence the title of this post. I think at this point in the season, there is a tendency to think the sky is falling around every turn and to look for potential holes and shortcomings that could hurt the team down the line. This sort of attitude takes its toll, however, and the bottom line is that this team is playing, if not perhaps their best baseball in all facets of the game, at least well enough to keep in the win column. The run differential now stands at +113 and the Twins own the third-best record in all of baseball. Save for a three-game stretch at US Cellular, the rest of the schedule doesn't look so intimidating, but the Twins need to stay on their toes against opponents that may just be looking to play spoiler. I'm not taking anything for granted, but I'm going to be sure to enjoy the ride for the rest of the season.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Given the 'doomsday' tone of my last post, I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised (read: ecstatic) to be writing about a Twins sweep of the Rangers over this past weekend. Matt Fox gave the Twins a solid start in his MLB debut, Pavano gave the Twins the kind of performance we've come to expect from him this year and Nick Blackburn continued his solid return to the rotation with 7 innings of 2-run ball. The bullpen showed signs of their recent overuse, but the Twins emerged from the weekend with a 3-game sweep of the 1st place Texas Rangers which was key considering the White Sox also swept their weekend road series with the Red Sox.

I'll keep it short because eh, it's Labor Day weekend and I don't feel like going into too much 'in-depth analysis' but what could have easily been disaster was averted and the Twins organization continued to showcase it's depth, beating a good team with some gutsy pitching performances and some unlikely, yet heroic, performances (Matt Tolbert, I'm looking at you).

The Twins now open a 3-game set with the Kansas City Royals which they should not take lightly, the Royals always seem to be a pest come this time of year, tripping up contending AL Central teams when they least expect it. The pitching match-ups are as follows:

Monday (2:10 ET start)
Sean O'Sullivan (5.50/1.30) vs. Kevin Slowey (4.39/1.27)

Tuesday (8:10 ET start)
Brian Bannister (5.95/1.58) vs. Francisco Liriano (3.27/1.25)

Wednesday (8:10 ET start)
Zack Greinke (3.87/1.22) vs. Brian Duensing (2.09/1.10)

A much needed day off.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Very Costly Series...

On Tuesday I bit my nails as the Twins pulled out a shaky one-run win. On Wednesday I was jumping around my apartment when Valencia hit the game-winning single in the 10th. Last night I wanted to throw a brick through a wall and as the game dragged on, I started to feel sick...

Yes, the Twins won 2 out of 3 and took a home series which they needed to take. Yes they are still 3.5 games up on the White Sox and yes, they are still in the driver's seat for the division crown. But, I can't imagine a series win costing this team more than the Tigers series did. To recap:

- On Tuesday night, the Twins used 5 pitchers: Duensing, Guerrier, Flores, Crain, Capps
- On Wednesday night, the Twins used 6 pitchers: Liriano, Crain, Flores, Guerrier, Capps, Rauch
- On Thursday night, the Twins used 8 pitchers: Baker, Manship, Rauch, Flores, Guerrier, Crain, Duensing, Blackburn

In summary, tonight's scheduled starter Nick Blackburn will not be able to start tonight forcing the Twins to start a Triple-A callup OR someone like Glen Perkins. Not only that, Guerrier, Flores, and Crain have all been used 3 games in a row (with VERY mediocre results mind you) rendering them essentially unavailable for at least tonight. So if tonight's starter gets shelled in the 1st few innings, the Twins will have a very difficult decision to make on how to proceed. Their bullpen is used up and has been growing more ineffective by the day and even the 'plan-B' of using a starter is unavailable.

In addition to all of that, the series cost the Twins Orlando Hudson, Jason Kubel (could be bad, he's headed for more X-Rays), Brian Fuentes and Scott Baker (looks like elbow tendinitis again).

/buries head in hands

I was thinking the other day about what to write about and thought, "you know, the Twins have really shown the depth of their organization this year considering all the injuries they've overcome." The entire infield that started the season has spent time on the DL from Morneau to Hudson to Hardy and Punto. Stepping up into their places have been Cuddyer, Casilla and Valencia and all of them have performed pretty well. Other role players like Jason Repko have provided a spark for the Twins as well. But now, the Twins find themselves at the bottom of the barrel and I don't see where they are going to go from here.

The costly part of the series will not necessarily be felt tonight or tomorrow, but next week and the week after that if the Twins bullpen continues to be used heavily and certain key cogs like Kubes and Hudson continue to miss time. I just have a bad feeling that though last night's game was just one game, it's ramifications could last awhile, especially considering the Twins don't have another off-day until next Thursday. I'll leave you with a Gardenhire quote from after the game last night...

"Tomorrow we will find a pitcher,'' Gardenhire said. "We're looking for about 2-3 but they are on the road in Triple-A. We're trying to get a hold of everybody and are trying to make decisions. We'll have a starter for tomorrow and a couple of relievers. We can't tell you their names right now. We just don't have them.''

As I write this, I've finally reached the 5th stage of grief, acceptance, telling myself that it's just baseball and that the outcome of this season will have little bearing on my overall life.